Silver Creek’s deadly cannon

Old cannons, like old soldiers, never die. They can still be seen, standing permanently in local parks and village squares, somber reminders of the past. Kids climb on them and camera-toting tourists pose next to them.

Many years ago, Silver Creek’s old piece of artillery was a brass six-pounder muzzle-loading field cannon mounted on wheels. As part of the coastal defense in 1842 it was first brought to the village with two other cannons and placed at the docks, a vital site to defend in that pre-railroad era.

It remained there until it was used again to celebrate the end of the Civil War. The day after General Lee’s surrender at Appomatox the gun was moved to the north end of the bridge over Silver Creek at what is now the intersection of Howard and Buffalo streets, its muzzle pointed south across the bridge.

The gun was in the charge of Lee O’Donaghy, Leroy Andrus and Leonard Adsitt, members of Company F 68th Regiment, New York State Volunteer Infantry. Leonard’s brother, Henry, was to load the gun for which gunpowder only was being used. Soon the gun was firing one rapid discharge after another.

Two young boys, William Talcott and Frank Swift, acted as “powder monkeys,” supplying the gunners with powder, while the older men kept the bystanders out of the way of the flying gravel and dust, which was carried along the street each time the gun fired.

After the gun had fired several times it became very hot and apparently it was not properly swabbed out. Consequently, hot unburned powder burned through Henry Adsitt’s leather glove as he “thumbed the vent.” He released his hand and this caused a premature explosion.

When this happened, O’Donaghy and Leonard Adsitt were standing on either side of the gun and Andrus was passing in front of it. Although no bystanders were injured, the three gunmen caught the full force of the explosion. The ramrod, which had still been in the barrel as the gun exploded, struck Andrus in the chest, killing him instantly. O’Donaghy lost a hand to the accident and Leonard Adsitt lost an arm and his eyesight.

His father, angered by the accident, later spiked the cannon’s vent.

From then on, the gun was not used but moved first to a site on the lakefront and then into the park. Finally, in 1876 it was decided to fire it in the national centennial celebrations.

It was taken first to the factory of Huntley and Heine, where George Christy, William Chapman and Walter Weller drilled into it a new primer vent. It was then placed on the Silver Creek Flats, the present location of the ball park. This time the gun’s firing was carried out under the supervision of A. P. Brown, an experienced artilleryman.

Not long after this, the old gun was dismantled and sold. Its brass was melted down and made into brass parts for machines built by the Excelsior Works.

Agnes “Pat” Pfleuger is a former OBSERVER reporter and Dunkirk resident.